By Brian New
DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – In the past five years, the City of Dallas has spent more than $10.8 million to settle lawsuits against Dallas police officers.
Dallas faces millions of dollars more in potential payouts to settle dozens of unresolved claims.
According to records obtained by the CBS11 I-Team, the City of Dallas currently has 38 unresolved liability claims against Dallas police officers, including one stemming from the 2013 shooting of Kelvion Walker by then-Senior Cpl. Amy Wilburn.
Kelvion Walker seeks $10M for 2013 police shooting
The police dash-cam video that captured the shooting on December 9, 2013 shows two Dallas police officers in pursuit of a reported stolen vehicle in which Walker was a passenger.
As the driver of the car jumped out and Wilburn’s partner chased him, Wilburn rushed up to driver’s side of the moving vehicle and fired her weapon at Walker.
At the time of the shooting, Walker was still in his seat belt, he was unarmed, and according to an independent witness, Walker had both of his hands up.
Wilburn later said she couldn’t see Walker’s hands.
“I’m just looking at her coming around and it just happened that fast,” Walker told the I-Team. “I was just in shock for a couple of seconds and then I’m like what are you shooting me for. I just look down and see smoke coming out of my body.”
An internal affairs investigation determined Wilburn violated the department’s deadly force policy. She was fired shortly after the shooting. The former police officer is set to go to trial on a criminal assault charge in January.
Walker suffered several internal injuries and underwent three major operations. Doctors told Walker he will have back and leg pain along with other medical complications the rest of his life.
Walker sued Wilburn for damages and is seeking a $10 million settlement.
So far, Walker has not received any compensation from the city.
“They have absolutely taken every chance they can to delay this matter,” said Walker’s attorney, Geoff Henley.
Dallas spent $500K on private law firm to defend fired officer in civil case
While walker has not received any money from the city, the I-Team discovered the city has paid the private law firm of Fanning Harper Martinson Brandt & Kutchin PC so far $503,687 to defend the fired officer in her civil case.
According to city records, the $503,687 expense is the most the city has ever spent on outside legal fees for a single officer misconduct case.
The city said it uses outside legal services in claim cases where there is a potential conflict of interest. In this case, the city’s firing of Wilburn creates a potential conflict of interest.
Additional legal fees in the case are likely, as the case has not yet gone to trial. A judge granted a stay in the civil case until the criminal case against Wilburn concludes.
Cost of police misconduct cases soared in recent years
For perspective, the $503,687 expense for legal fees in Walker v. Wilburn is more money than Dallas spent to settle all seven of its police misconduct claims settled from 2006 to 2011 combined. The city paid out a total of $380,000 to settle those seven claims.
However, in the past five years Dallas spent $10.8-million dollars to settle 23 cases against police officers.
Henley, who specializes in civil rights cases, said this surge in payouts does not mean officers are now behaving worse.
“I don’t think there’s been an increase in the violent propensity or unlawful propensity of certain police officers,” he said. “I just think we have better means of documenting those abuses now.”
Experts often refer to this as the “video effect.”
In 2014, Dallas paid a $1.1 million settlement to Ronald Jones after dash-cam video showed an officer beating Jones and wrestling him to the ground,
Jones was jailed on a charge of assaulting the police officer. The charge was dropped when video came to light contradicting the officer’s account
Bennett’s mother called police to help with her mentally ill son. Seconds after officers arrived, one of them shot Bennett in his driveway four times from twenty feet away. Bennett had a small knife in his hand.
Dallas police payouts far exceed Arlington, Fort Worth
The increase in the cost to settle these claims is not unique to Dallas.
Several large cities across the country have also reported paying more in recent years to settle police misconduct cases.
In North Texas, however; other municipalities have not experienced the same type of increase as Dallas.
The City of Arlington has paid out $1.9 million to settle police excess force claims in the past five years.
According to records provided by the city, Fort Worth paid out just $12,000 in law enforcement liability claims in the past five years. Fort Worth, however; would not say how many open cases they have that have not been settled.
Brian New,“Police Misconduct Cases Costing Dallas Taxpayers Millions”, http://dfw.cbslocal.com/2017/08/14/police-misconduct-dallas-taxpayers/